Cornel West addresses UI student body

Cornel West, professor of religion and African-American studies at Princeton University, brought his personality and perspective to a full Foellinger Auditorium on Thursday night. His message addressed poverty and racial injustices within American history.

University students came eager to meet West, who was brought to the University by the Black Law Student Association. Some said they have been fervent advocates for as long as they could remember.

“I’ve been a big fan of Cornel West for a long time,” said Charles Young, a graduate student. “I was interested because of the simple fact that we got an African-American president in the history of America.”

The presentation began with two individuals reciting a poetic script entitled “unwritten amendment.”

The work addressed issues related to race. They took audience members through different eras in history where they said African-Americans kept silent.

Next, West talked about poverty, saying that President Barack Obama’s inauguration ended an era where issues about poverty were dismissed. Unlike former President Ronald Regan, he said Obama addresses wealth and equality.

“Ronald Reagan created a world of make believe as if all we need to talk about are the lives of the riches,” West said. “Sooner or later the funk (of dire poverty) is gonna come get you.”

Later in the presentation, West referred to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream as the model to follow in creating a “beloved community” for racial harmony.

He encouraged the audience to challenge Obama’s competency and support him, so that he can address tough issues such as prisoners receiving harsher sentences compared to political leaders.

“I hope that the energy of Obama’s competency will be sustained,” West said. “That a civic activism in young people will go beyond the White House.”

“If there’s no motion (and) no movement in the nation that casts a highlight on the poor people and working people, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of a beloved community will not be realized,” West added.

The presentation left an impression on students throughout the night as he spoke and opened up the floor for questions.

“My most memorable part was the ending when Cornel said he’d fight for the people in the past who have worked so hard to give us opportunities,” said Danielle Burks, sophomore in LAS.

The presentation culminated with West emphasizing important values.

“The precious democratic experiment in America dies when citizens like ourselves don’t allow clarity, courage and compassion to live in us. We almost lost it in the ’30s and the ’60s. Here we go again,” West said. “You see too many echoes, not enough voices.”